3-and-out: Reviewing the 2016 Chicago Bears on offense

Offensive side of the ball had young stars for the Bears, but way too many injuries

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Chicago Bears quarterback Brian Hoyer (2) calls a play in a huddle during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Chicago Bears quarterback Brian Hoyer (2) calls a play in a huddle during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) — Charles Rex Arbogast

QUARTERBACK

What worked: Each starter had something that worked. For Jay Cutler, it was the Bears’ best win — in Week Eight against the Vikings. Cutler completed 20-of-31 passes while throwing a touchdown and no picks. In his five starts, it was the only one with zero turnovers. For Brian Hoyer, it was ball security. He attempted 200 passes without throwing an interception, a stark contrast to Cutler and Matt Barkley. For the latter, Matt Barkley impressed with his play in the fourth quarter, showing the ability to rally the Bears back in multiple games.

What didn’t: Inconsistency and availability, to paraphrase Ryan Pace.

It’s not good to have three quarterbacks starting. Cutler’s injuries (thumb, shoulder) kept him out of 11 games. Hoyer’s broken forearm ended his season. Connor Shaw’s broken leg in the preseason kept him out the entire year, opening the door for Barkley. On the field, Cutler threw five interceptions and lost two fumbles while compiling a 78.1 passer rating, showing some of the same struggles we’ve seen throughout his career.

For all of Barkley’s “heroics” against the Titans and Packers, he threw 14 interceptions and lost two fumbles in six starts while winning only one game. Hoyer also won only one game and struggled in the red zone (48.3 percent completion rate).

Moments that mattered: For Cutler, it was his strip sack in Tampa at the Bucs’ 4-yard line. An awful game for Cutler and the team summed up in that mistake. For Hoyer, it was the final play against the Colts. Facing a fourth down at the Indianapolis 28, Hoyer threw an incomplete pass into traffic targeting Cameron Meredith when Alshon Jeffery was open down the left sideline. For Barkley, his five-interception performance against Washington dispelled any idea that he could be the future of the position for the Bears.

RUNNING BACK

What worked: Jordan Howard, Jordan Howard and, well, Jordan Howard. You can’t say enough about the rookie sensation, who finished second in the NFL in rushing despite being a healthy scratch in Week One and getting only three carries in Week Two before taking over when Jeremy Langford got hurt in Dallas in Week Three.

Howard had seven 100-yard games, averaged a staggering 5.2 yards per carry and was the team’s ultimate bright spot the last two months of the season.

What didn’t: Langford’s ankle injury set him back when expectations were high for the second-year back. Ryan Pace said the injury affected Langford, who was relegated to a handful of carries per game in the second half of the season. He can be a solid No. 2 if healthy next season.

Howard’s ascension left not much of a role for Ka’Deem Carey. The one thing that didn’t work at this position was out of the players’ hands — not enough run plays called.

Moment that mattered: Howard’s 69-yard run against a Vikings team that, at the time, was one of the best run defenses in the NFL, set the tone for the Bears’ best win of the season. Howard rushed for 153 yards in the Halloween victory.

WIDE RECEIVER

What worked: Cameron Meredith had a breakout season, leading the team in receptions and receiving yards, even though he didn’t play in the first two games. The second-year, undrafted receiver who was a quarterback in high school showed off impressive route running, catching abilities and run-after-catch skills.

What didn’t: Like the quarterback spot, availability. Alshon Jeffery missed four games with a PED suspension and the franchise-tagged player had only two touchdowns on the season. Kevin White got into a groove in Week Four before fracturing his fibula, forcing the 2015 No. 7 pick to miss the rest of the season. Eddie Royal played in only nine games for the second year in a row.

Moment that mattered: The season for the Bears’ wide receivers could be summed up with the loss to the Titans. Drops for Josh Bellamy, Deonte Thompson and Marquess Wilson added up to 10, including two in the end zone on the final drive — one for Bellamy and another for Thompson. However, the fact that those receivers were targeted on the key drive is the other story, exemplifying the missed time for the top three at the position.

TIGHT END

What worked: In Dallas and Indianapolis and against the Vikings, Zach Miller showed why he was the team’s No. 1 tight end and what earned him the three-year contract. He also was outstanding against the Giants before suffering a broken foot.

What didn’t: A lack of depth at the tight end position. The Bears tried several times to get more bodies there, but went with Logan Paulsen, Ben Braunecker and Daniel Brown, none who could provide the offense what Miller did.

Moment that mattered: Seeing Miller go to the sidelines and slam his helmet in the Meadowlands after he broke his foot was a tough sight for a player who has rallied from an injury-plagued career. That injury ended Miller’s season and exposed a weakness in the Bears’ offense at the position.

OFFENSIVE LINE

What worked: Cody Whitehair moved to center, a position he barely played during the summer, let alone in his football career, and had a stellar rookie season. He impressed his coaches and teammates with how well he handed a tough position. He appears to be a building block for this team for the long-term.

Overall, the Bears’ O-line protected QBs well, allowing sacks on 5 percent of drop backs, which ranked eighth in the NFL.

What didn’t: An ankle injury ended the season for Pro Bowler Kyle Long in Week 10. Josh Sitton missed time with an ankle injury, too. Bobby Massie finished the season strong, but had a rough go protecting the edge in the first month. Charles Leno was solid but far from spectacular, as the tackle position — one that lacked depth — may need an infusion of talent this offseason.

Moment that mattered: The move that led to the Bears having one of the best interior offensive line groupings in the league — the Sitton signing. It took a few games for the group to come together, and injuries forced Sitton and Long to miss time, but the trio in the middle is a nice example of hope for the 2017 Bears.